Belated Musings from Istanbul: An Afternoon with Multitap

by Charlotte Parker

We met Selim Sümer, the lead singer and guitarist for up-and-coming Turkish electro-pop group Multitap, in Tünel square, the heart of Istanbul’s music district. I had never seen him before, but I knew when I saw him from a block away that he was the guy we were supposed to be meeting. His cantelope-colored skinny jeans and vaguely purple plaid shirt stood out from the muted palate favored by most of the Istanbullus I had seen. They seemed befitting of someone with creative vision.

And after our interview, I think that is what Multitap has. Maybe interview is the wrong word, actually, since it took place for the most part on the rooftop terrace of their recording studio, overlooking a jumble of other beautiful terraces, Topkapi Palace, and the Golden Horn. He and keyboarder Sertaç Ozgümüs offered us beer, and what ensued, after cheers in various languages, was more like a though-provoking conversation. I left thinking that maybe I would like to be a reporter for Rolling Stone.

The band—4 members in total, like one of their biggest inspirations, the Beatles–released their first album in 2006 and is at an exciting point in their development. They just won a prize at the big Turkish music awards, Agora, and have been commissioned to write the song for the Turkish national basketball team. According to our Yale ‘07 friend Eset, who translated at points throughout the conversation, this is a huge deal; the last anthem for the team became one of the most-played songs in Turkey because basketball is so popular.

In contrast to Arabesk music (which is what I am researching on this trip), Multitap’s music is all about seeing the glass half full. Their music videos are clever and a bit goofy, and hearing Selim talk I was struck by his sense of whimsy. He and Sertaç talked a lot about how the landscape of the Turkish music industry is a one-dimensional music of suffering, and they want to give people a choice of something other. For them, this is what “alternative” music is—the opportunity to have a choice. They hope that being able to choose a type of music will give their target audience, young Turkish people ages 13-24, the sense that they can choose other things, like whether or not they wear a head scarf or what political party they will back.

The difference between Multitap and any “indie” or “alternative” band in the US, I felt, was their genuine sense that their music could, and should, give people agency in their lives by letting them choose. I was interested to hear them call it “honest music for a dishonest time”—an expression of their hope that Turkish society is ready for a change. Now that we’ve been in the Southeast for a few days, I am less ready to jump at the conclusion that dishonesty is rampant—we have certainly been made aware of our preconceptions of good vs. bad government—but I’ve been more and more convinced of a push for change in society in general.

Below, one of Multitap’s music videos, followed by a study in contrasts, the video for a famous Arabesk song. “Çıbık” by Multitap“Bebegim” by Ibrahim Tatlises, a famous singer of Arabesk music. Internet is too slow right now to post our own videos, but look out for a clip of our conversation to hear more about how what Eset described as “epic” Turkish emotions figure dramatically in music and everyday life.